IPPA Newsletter
Volume 5 - Issue 4  - January 2013

Character Strengths: A Research Update

Issue 4 Introduction
Peterson Gold Medal Announcement

Peterson Memorials 


Character strengths are capacities for thinking, feeling, willing, and behaving; when expressed in a balanced way they are positive psychological ingredients for a flourishing life. Research exploded on the positive psychology scene following the advent of a scientific classification and measurement tool (VIA Classification and VIA Survey) that was developed by Christopher Peterson, Martin Seligman, and 55 top scientists in the field (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Indeed, the impact of this project is clear in Howard Gardner’s description that it is "one of the most important initiatives in psychology of the past half-century." Peterson and his colleague Nansook Park have gone on to publish scores of quality studies on character strengths solidifying this new science of character, paving the way for countless researchers interested in studying and exploring what many call "the backbone" of positive psychology.

While it is beyond the scope of this article for me to capture anything more than a fraction of the studies that have been published in the last decade, I offer some mere highlights below. [For a comprehensive review of the first 10 years of character strengths research, see Niemiec (2013), or go to this link here for a bullet-point list of over 100, one-sentence research summaries on character strengths.] 

  • The most commonly endorsed character strengths reported around the world are (in descending order) kindness, fairness, honesty, gratitude, and judgment while the least endorsed character strengths are prudence, modesty, and self-regulation (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2006). This study is currently being updated by a leading personality researcher with a larger subject pool and more countries.

  • The character strength most related to achievement seems to be perseverance; however, several other strengths emerge repeatedly including self-regulation, hope, fairness, and gratitude, to name a few (Lounsbury et al., 2009; Park & Peterson, 2008; Park & Peterson, 2009).

  • In terms of positive health, several specific character strengths have been studied over the years and are connected with greater health (e.g., gratitude). When an individual has a physical disorder, there is less of a toll on life satisfaction if the person ranks high on the character strengths of bravery, kindness, and humor. For psychological disorders, there is less of a toll on life satisfaction if they rank high on the character strengths of appreciation of beauty & excellence and love of learning (Peterson, Park, & Seligman, 2006).

  • Strengths buffer people from vulnerabilities (Huta & Hawley, 2010). The character strength of hope appears to be one of the strongest factors in this area. Hope, zest, and leadership were substantially related to fewer problems with anxiety and depression (Park & Peterson, 2008).

  • The character strengths most associated with the meaning route to happiness are spirituality, gratitude, hope, zest, and curiosity; those most associated with the engagement route to happiness are zest, curiosity, hope, perseverance, and perspective. Lastly, those most associated with the pleasure route to happiness are humor, zest, hope, social intelligence, and love (Peterson et al., 2007). In general, the "Big 5 Happiness Strengths" those life satisfaction character strengths most correlated with well-being, in repeated studies are hope, zest, gratitude, curiosity, and love (Park, Peterson, & Seligman, 2004; Peterson et al., 2007; Proctor, Maltby, & Linley, 2009; Ruch et al., 2007; Shimai et al., 2006).

  • Since character strengths seem to have a robust connection with well-being, researchers have developed interventions to test these strengths specifically (but replaced the strength of love with the strength of humor) and found significant relationships with life satisfaction compared to a control group (Proyer, Ruch, & Buschor, 2012).

  • The most recognized intervention with character strengths is "use your signature strengths in new ways." This exercise involves having participants identify their highest strengths by taking the VIA Survey and then use one of these strengths in a new way each day. This has become a quintessential intervention in the practice of positive psychology since the first study found increases in well-being and decreases in depression for six months (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). Strengths practitioners and researchers continue to expand the scope of this work by examining strengths overuse, underuse, context sensitivity, and use with varying populations, problems, and settings (Niemiec, 2013).

  • Gander, Proyer, Ruch, and Wyss (2012) recently studied nine interventions relating to character strengths. These included using signature strengths in new ways, counting kindness, one door closes - another door opens, three funny things, and the gift of time. Results found significant increases in well-being and significant decreases in depression for six months for nearly every intervention when compared to placebo!

These are just a few of the findings in recent years and many more can be found in Niemiec (2013) or at this link here. Since 2010, no one has published more peer-reviewed articles on character strengths than Willibald Ruch and his colleagues (including Rene Proyer, Claudia Harzer, and Fabian Gander) in Switzerland. Ruch has at least 17 in that short period of time, with many prior to that and many coming soon. Another well-published, character strengths researcher is Hadassah Littman-Ovadia and her colleagues (including Shiri Lavy) in Israel. If you’re interested in character strengths in work, character strengths interventions, the strengths of hope or humor/playfulness, then you’ll want to peruse some of their publications and others below.




Gander, F., Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Wyss, T. (2012). Strength-based positive interventions: Further evidence for their potential in enhancing well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012a): When the job is a calling: The role of applying one's signature strengths at work. Journal of Positive Psychology.

Harzer, C., & Ruch, W. (2012b). The application of signature character strengths and positive experiences at work. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Huta, V., & Hawley, L. (2010). Psychological strengths and cognitive vulnerabilities: Are they two ends of the same continuum or do they have independent relationships with well-being and ill-being? Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 71–93.

Linley, P. A., Nielsen, K. M., Gillett, R., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2010). Using signature strengths in pursuit of goals: Effects on goal progress, need satisfaction, and well-being, and implications for coaching psychologists. International Coaching Psychology Review, 5(1), 6–15.

Littman-Ovadia, H., & Davidovitch, N. (2010). Effects of congruence and character-strength deployment on work adjustment and well-being. International Journal of Business and Social Science, 1(3), 138-146.

Littman-Ovadia, H., & Steger, M. (2010). Character strengths and well-being among volunteers and employees: Toward an integrative model. Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(6), 419-430.

Lounsbury, J. W., Fisher, L. A., Levy, J. J., & Welsh, D. P. (2009). An investigation of character strengths in relation to the academic success of college students. Individual Differences Research, 7(1), 52-69.

Madden, W., Green, S., & Grant, A. M. (2011). A pilot study evaluating strengths-based coaching for primary school students: Enhancing engagement and hope. International Coaching Psychology Review, 6(1), 71-83.

Mitchell, J., Stanimirovic, R., Klein, B., & Vella-Brodrick, D. (2009). A randomised controlled trial of a self-guided internet intervention promoting well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 25, 749–760.

Mongrain, M., & Anselmo-Matthews, T. (2012). Do positive psychology exercises work? A replication of Seligman et al. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68(4).

Niemiec, R. M. (2012). Mindful living: Character strengths interventions as pathways for the five mindfulness trainings. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(1), 22-33.

Niemiec, R. M. (2013). VIA character strengths: Research and practice (The first 10 years). In H. H. Knoop & A. Delle Fave (Eds.), Well-being and cultures: Perspectives on positive psychology (pp. 11-30). New York: Springer.

Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2008). Positive psychology and character strengths: Application to strengths-based school counseling. Professional School Counseling, 12(2), 85-92.

Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2009). Character strengths: Research and practice. Journal of College and Character, 10(4), np.

Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Strengths of character and well-being. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, 23, 603–619.

Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Character strengths in fifty-four nations and the fifty US states. Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(3), 118-129.

Peterson, C., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Greater strengths of character and recovery from illness. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 1(1), 17–26.

Peterson, C., Ruch, W., Beermann, U., Park, N., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2007). Strengths of character, orientations to happiness, and life satisfaction. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 149–156.

Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York, NY: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Peterson, T. D., & Peterson, E. W. (2009). Stemming the tide of law student depression: What law schools need to learn from the science of positive psychology. Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics, 9(2), 358–359.

Proctor, C., Maltby, J., & Linley, P. A. (2009) Strengths use as a predictor of well-being and health-related quality of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 10, 583-630.

Proctor, C., Tsukayama, E., Wood, A., M., Maltby, J., Fox Eades, J., & Linley, P. A. (2011). Strengths gym: The impact of a character strengths-based intervention on the life satisfaction and well-being of adolescents. Journal of Positive Psychology, 6(5), 377-388.

Proyer, R. T., & Ruch, W. (2011). The virtuousness of adult playfulness: The relation of playfulness with strengths of character. Psychology of Well-Being: Theory, Research and Practice, 1(4).

Proyer, R. T., Ruch, W., & Buschor, C. (2012). Testing strengths-based interventions: A preliminary study on the effectiveness of a program targeting curiosity, gratitude, hope, humor, and zest for enhancing life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies.

Ruch, W., Huber, A., Beermann, U., & Proyer, R. T. (2007). Character strengths as predictors of the "good life" in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. In Romanian Academy, "George Barit" Institute of History, Department of Social Research (Ed.), Studies and researches in social sciences (Vol. 16). Cluj-Napoca, Romania: Argonaut Press, 123-131.

Rust, T., Diessner, R., & Reade, L. (2009). Strengths only or strengths and relative weaknesses? A preliminary study. Journal of Psychology, 143(5), 465-476.

Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.

Shimai, S., Otake, K., Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Convergence of character strengths in American and Japanese young adults. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7, 311–322.

Wood, A. M., Linley, P. A., Matlby, J., Kashdan, T. B., & Hurling, R. (2011). Using personal and psychological strengths leads to increases in well-being over time: A longitudinal study and the development of the strengths use questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 15-19.

Ryan Niemiec
Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D.
Licensed Psychologist
Education Director
VIA Institute on Character